Sometimes you may notice that the space on your hard drive just doesn’t add up. You’ve opened up the drive in the Finder, checked the size of all the folders against the size of the drive, and found that there is space that just isn’t accounted for. I call this the Mysteriously Missing Drive Space Problem. It usually comes up when your drive is getting close to full and you are trying to find ways to make some more room. To deal with this, there are a couple of things you need to think about.
First, because of the way OS X security works, one User does not have the ability to see how much space is being used by another User…even with Admin privileges. So, you may open a 1TB drive in the Finder, add up the Applications, Library, System and Users folders and find that space, plus the space available, doesn’t add up to 1TB. The “missing space” is very likely being used by the other User accounts.
Second, problems can occur where temporary log files created by the system, which are supposed to be deleted automatically, begin to accumulate. Sometimes this is a chronic issue caused by one or more pieces of software not functioning the way they should. Over time, these files can add up to hundreds of GB of space, sometimes in hidden system folders which are invisible even to Admin Users under normal circumstances.
Either way, you need to be able to get an accurate and complete snapshot of how the space on your drive is being used. The first step to doing this is logging in as the Root User.
The Root User is a special User type that has access to ALL files on the hard drive, including the folders of all the other Users.
There is information here on what the Root User is for and instructions on how to enable it. Once you do, you will be able to browse your hard drive and get a better picture of how the space is being used.
However, the best way to see what’s going on is to log in as Root and use a piece of shareware called Disk Inventory X. Disk Inventory X provides both a numerical and a visual breakdown of how your drive space is being used, even in invisible folders where the log files I mentioned earlier can accumulate. A lot of times you will find these files in /private/var/log. Just do a little research first to make sure you know what you’re looking at before deleting anything.
I recently used this software to discover that a client, whose hard drive was “full,” actually had a complete “ghost” copy of the entire drive (that had been created during a wonky backup) stashed away in a hidden system folder. Logged in as Root and with Disk Inventory X, we were able to locate the copy and get rid of it, doubling the available space and avoiding an expensive hard drive upgrade.
One of the other things we’ve been working on is consolidating our web design work and hosting services into a separate company: Subliminal Labs. The site for this new entity is in the works…we’ll let you know when it’s ready.
In the meantime if you or someone you know needs a new site or an update on an old one, please let us know. If you refer a client to us and they decide to hire us, it’s the same deal as the Silverlake Mac referral Special Offer: your choice of a 1 hour credit (on a 2 hr. minimum visit) or $25 cash following our first visit to that new client.
To get the ball rolling, we’re dusting off an email from a couple of years ago sent out to clients in an effort to get you all to Back Up Your Stuff. Really, this is the best advice we can give. Enjoy.
Do You Have a Backup Plan?
It’s one of the most common problems we get to deal with: a sick hard drive with no Backup.
A client will call in a panic, “My computer won’t start, it just makes a weird clicking sound. I think my hard drive is toast! All of my important stuff is on there…what am I going to do?”
Don’t Let This Happen To You!
Whether you have a brand new MacBook Pro or an old G4, if you don’t have a reliable Backup Plan you are taking an unnecessary risk with all of your documents, music, photos and movies. Photos are especially vulnerable now that everyone has gone digital. You only get to take pictures of that birthday or that holiday or that family reunion once. There are no negatives to go back to. If they’re gone they’re gone for good — unless you have a Backup.
It’s so simple and affordable to do a regular Backup these days but people still seem to want to wait until they already need it to think about how it works. And by then it’s too late. To remedy this situation I thought I’d give you the basics and hopefully help you avoid disaster.
Two Places At Once
The basic idea behind any Backup Plan is redundancy. You want to have duplicates of all your files (documents, music, photos and movies) so that if something goes wrong with your computer you have copies to fall back on.
However, having copies is not enough. You need to keep the copies on an external hard drive, separate from the drive inside your computer. You can have copies of absolutely everything but it won’t do you any good if they are on the same drive that has turned to toast!
There are two main components in a good Backup System: STORAGE and SOFTWARE.
STORAGE: External Hard Drives
You need to store your Backup files on an external drive connected to your computer with a USB or FireWire cable. This allows you to have a copy of everything on a drive that operates independently of the computer itself. If the computer stops working properly or just disappears one day, you will still have all of your stuff (documents, music, photos and movies).
The drive I always recommend to people is the Lacie Rugged.
The Lacie Rugged is very small (fits in the palm of your hand) and is powered by the same USB cable you use to connect it to your Mac, so no extra power supply brick will clutter up your desk! There are different sizes, but the 500GB model, plenty of space for most people, is on Amazon at the moment for under $100.
[UPDATE: Note that the 1TB model is larger and does require a separate power supply. Still, a great solution if you need that much storage.]
If you don’t like cables at all you can solve two problems at once with Apple’s Time Capsule, which combines a 1TB or 2TB hard drive with a wireless router.
(*Note that if you have one of the newer Airport Extreme Base Stations you have the option of plugging an external drive like the Lacie Rugged into its USB port, effectively creating your own Time Capsule for a fraction of the cost.)
SOFTWARE: Backup Apps
The simplest way to make a Backup is to literally drag your Home folder over to your external drive on a regular basis. In the event you have problems with your computer you can recover most of your files by using this method but there are a couple of reasons why it isn’t practical. One is that most of us aren’t disciplined enough to do this as often as we should, or we just forget. The other problem is that it’s slow: since there is no easy way to know which files have changed since the previous Backup you need to copy everything every time. This can be time consuming, especially if you have a lot of music and photos.
There are several good applications out there that address both of these issues. They are designed to be set up on a repeating schedule allowing you to “set it and forget it.” They also keep track of which files have changed since the previous Backup and only copy those files (called an “incremental backup,”) saving lots of time. Here’s a rundown on some software options.
Time Machine: If you’re running Snow Leopard (OSX 10.6) or even Leopard (OSX 10.5) you have Time Machine built-in to your system.
It’s very simple to use. Just select the external drive you want to use for your Backup (whether it’s a Time Capsule or a USB drive like the Lacie Rugged) and then Turn It On. That’s it. Time Machine then makes an initial Backup of everything and then continues to do so in the background as needed (new files or files that have been changed). You won’t even know it’s there…until you need it.
Apple Backup: If you’re still running Tiger (OSX 10.4…like I am on my old PowerBook) and have a .Mac or MobileMe account you can use Apple’s older Backup software.
Just set how often you want to make your Backup, where you want the Backup to live, and you’re done!
SuperDuper: SuperDuper is another great inexpensive option that is easy to use on a Mac, especially if you don’t have a .Mac or MobileMe account and aren’t running Leopard yet.
Download the demo to try it out but you will have to pay for the full version to use the scheduling features.
Do It Now
There are other options out there, other kinds of drives, other pieces of software. These are just a few suggestions to get you started. No matter what you do though, do something. All hard drives, even the one inside your computer, have a life span.
Just because you can’t be in two places at once, doesn’t mean your files can’t be.
Hey, everyone! Welcome to the new and improved SilverLakeMac website.
I’ve been thinking for a long time of starting a blog on which I would write about some of the issues I deal with when working with my clients, and how I solve them. Over time I hope this site will become a valuable resource in addition to providing information on my services. Consider bookmarking it and/or subscribing to the RSS, and of course forwarding it to your friends and colleagues.
Best wishes for 2011 and remember: Don’t Panic!